On “Bao”

Special Focus - - LANGUAGE - By Fan Su

As elu­ci­dated in Shuowen Jiezi ( the first dic­tio­nary in an­cient China, com­piled by Xu Shen, a Han Dy­nasty scholar), the Chi­nese char­ac­ter “Bao” re­sem­bles a preg­nant woman. Vi­tal­ity of hu­man be­ing orig­i­nates from in­fant who is born of par­ents. The et­y­mol­ogy of “Bao” is sub­ject to the char­ac­ter com­po­nent of “Bao” it­self.

Since a prom­i­nent fea­ture in “Bao” is the char­ac­ter’s re­sem­blance to preg­nancy, it was orig­i­nally de­fined as “pla­centa” and ex­tended to be “pack­age”. For in­stance, the poem “Dead Deer in the Wilds,” Guofeng (Airs of the States), the Shi­jing (Clas­sic of Songs) states that there is a dead deer in the wilds wrapped up in co­gon grass. “Bao” also has an­other mean­ing of “con­tain and tol­er­ance”, Mengx­ibi­tan ( Brush Talks From Dream Brook by Shen Kuo, a North­ern Song Dy­nasty sci­en­tist) ex­plains that numer­ous peaks of Yan­dang Moun­tain are well seated in val­leys. Ac­cord­ing to Shui­jingzhu Heshui (Com­men­tary on the Wa­ter Clas­sic by Li Daoyuan, a North­ern Wei Dy­nas­try ge­og­ra­pher), say­ing river en­com­passed by moun­tains flows along, “Bao” means “sur­round” here.

Trans­form­ing into a noun, “Bao” de­notes bag, e. g. a school bag or lug­gage, pack­aged goods such as a packet of medicine or parcels, and steamed food with stuff­ing, e.g. veg­e­tar­ian-filled Baozi & Tang Baozi, which is prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar Chi­nese cui­sine in the world.

Leg­end has it that “Baozi” ( steamed filled bun) emerged dur­ing the North­ern Song Dy­nasty, which is ver­i­fied by Yanyiyan­moulu ( the work is mainly about in­sti­tu­tions and reg­u­la­tions in Song Dy­nasty and elab­o­ra­tion to suc­cess and fail­ure of re­form, by Wang Yong in Song Dy­nasty), say­ing “Baozi” are be­stowed on civil and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials to cel­e­brate Em­peror Ren Zong’s birth­day. “Baozi” is an­no­tated to be en­ti­tled “Man­tou” ( steamed bun) as an

al­ter­na­tive name. Nev­er­the­less, it is known to all that the so- called “Mao­tou” in North­ern Song Dy­nasty refers to fer­mented steamed stuffed food while the one with­out stuff­ing is called “Cuib­ing” (steamed cake). Up to now, there still pre­vails the ap­pel­la­tion of “pork- filled Baozi,” “veg­e­tar­i­an­filled Baozi,” and “Shengjian man­tou” in many ar­eas of South­ern China, which are all, in fact, filled with stuff­ing.

It is recorded in Duchengjisheng ( the work de­scribes lo­cal con­di­tions and cus­toms in the city of Lin An, South­ern Song Dy­nasty, by Nai Deweng in South­ern Song Dy­nasty) that “all are called bistros, ex­cept for state- owned ho­tels and wineshops, pri­vate res­tau­rants, and inns. Food served with wine is also for sale in these eater­ies, where the menu was ac­ces­si­ble to whose who were in need of a ready- made meal. Baozi restau­rant some­times sell such spe­cial­ties such as Eya Baozi, Sise Douzi, Changx­ue­fen­geng, Yuzi, and Yubai, which are all in great de­mand.” As men­tioned in Duchengjisheng, one par­tic­u­lar Baozi restau­rant in Lin An dom­i­nated, whose ma­jor prod­uct was goose & duck meat filled baozi. Ap­par­ently, “Baozi” has

been widely avail­able since then.

It is mis­lead­ing to be­lieve that Baozi, a sim­ple and palat­able diet, is unique to China. On the con­trary, it is also preva­lent in other coun­tries and re­gions in­flu­enced by long­stand­ing ties to Chi­nese cul­ture in places such as Mon­go­lia, Ja­pan, Viet­nam, and the Philip­pines.

The rea­son why De­cem­ber of 2013 wit­nessed the sud­den rise in pop­u­lar­ity of Baozi is that Pres­i­dent Xi ate at the Bei­jing Qingfeng Baozi Restau­rant.


At noon of Dec. 28 , Pres­i­dent Xi paid 21 yuan for a por­tion of pork- filled Baozi, fried pork liver, and mus­tard at Bei­jing Qingfeng Baozi Restau­rant Yue­tan Branch on the way to his of­fice, which rapidly got spot­lighted. Con­se­quently, key words like “Xi Dada”, “Qingfeng”, “pork- scal­lion filled Baozi”, “fried pork liver”, “mus­tard”, and “21 yuan” over­whelmed the In­ter­net. More­over, a great many peo­ple came there spe­cially for the same ser­vice. Af­fec­tion for Baozi in­stantly spread through­out the na­tion.

What man­i­fests Pres­i­dent Xi’s wis­dom is not his choice in the Bei­jing Qingfeng Baozi Restau­rant, but his de­tour from “niche food” to avoid the po­ten­tial “civil war” be­tween foods like jel­lied bean curd, moon cake, zongzi ( pyra­mid­shaped dumpling made of gluti­nous rice wrapped in bam­boo or reed leaves), tangyuan( stuffed dumpling made of gluti­nous rice flour served in soup), jiaozi ( Chi­nese dumpling), laba por­ridge ( rice por­ridge with beans, nuts and dried fruit, eaten on the eighth day of the twelfth lu­nar month), and soya milk. This is the in­tel­li­gence and fore­sight and per­spec­tive that a na­tional leader should pos­sess. Fur­ther­more, baozi also plays a piv­otal role in the uni­fi­ca­tion of the coun­try. That is the mes­sage from Weibo. We are im­pressed by ne­ti­zens’ pro­found per­cep­tion of triv­ial mat­ters like a small baozi. The trend­ing of baozi is to be con­tin­ued.


On January 5 , 2014, Peo­ple’s Daily car­ried the brief­ing of var­i­ous Baozi such as Shang­hai Xiao­long­bao, Tian­jin Goubuli Baozi, Chendu Han­baozi, Shenyang Changle­bao, Wuhan Yux­i­ang­bao, Guang­dong Chashaobao, and Yichun Dabaozi.

Do you think this brings an end to the story of Baozi? If yes, it seems you un­der­es­ti­mate food­ies. Ne­ti­zens came to de­bunk the hon­our roll of Baozi in Peo­ple’s Daily once it was re­leased.

Wuhan­nese: Yux­i­ang­bao is noth­ing but fill­ing fish-fla­vored shred­ded pork into Baozi. I pre­fer to Qishuibao.

Shenyang­nese: We have never heard of Changle­bao; where does that it come from?

Yichun­nese: We have lived in Yichun for over two decades, but have no idea what they mean by Yichun Dabaozi.

We can surely em­bark on a never- end­ing gas­tro­nomic tour of Xiao­long­bao from Changzhou and Suzhou, fol­lowed by Wuxi, all of which are far be­yond Shang­hai Xiao­long­bao.

Trav­el­ling across thou­sands of years, Baozi, dis­tin­guished it­self as a solid and homely diet. It man­ages to sat­isfy and en­rich our meals and stom­achs, al­though it fails to stand out in a feast.

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